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‘Unremarkable’ Virginia attacker shows difficulty of fighting political violence

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The most worrying thing about James Hodgkinson, experts on violent extremism say, is how unremarkable the 66-year-old home inspector from Illinois seemed until he opened fire on Republican lawmakers as they played baseball.

Violent clashes between left-wing and right-wing groups at rallies and protests around the country have increased since the election of President Donald Trump in November.

Experts say detecting and heading off anti-government attacks from people driven by political ideology is increasingly difficult because of the abundance of partisan rancor, particularly on social media.

Hodgkinson wrote a series of strident messages against Trump and other Republicans on his Facebook account.

But so have many other Americans as politics have become more polarized in recent years, particularly since the divisive 2016 presidential election campaign.

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None of Hodgkinson’s posts suggested he would end up opening fire at a baseball field outside Washington on Wednesday morning. He wounded a top Republican lawmaker, a Congressional aide, a lobbyist, and a Capitol police officer before being shot himself. He later died from his wounds.

In one Facebook post, Hodgkinson wrote: “Trump is a Traitor. Trump Has Destroyed Our Democracy. It’s Time to Destroy Trump & Co.”

However, there is no evidence so far that he was linked to any radical or violent groups. Like millions of other Americans, he supported Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who sought the Democratic presidential nomination and condemns violence.

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Steve Bongardt, who worked until 2015 as an FBI special agent focusing on threat detection, said traditional counter-terrorism tools such as behavioral profiling and surveillance are less effective because so many otherwise harmless people post virulent messages on social media.

“The problem isn’t that behavioral profiles don’t work. The problem is the utility of them, because they give us so many false positives,” said Bongardt, who now heads The Gyges Group, a security firm.

INTENSE EMOTIONS

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Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow in the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, said the intensity of emotions on both sides of the political divide could be dangerous.

“When you have people with basically mainstream opinions so worked up that they’re willing to commit acts of actual violence, it illustrates in a very stark way how divided our country is right now,” Pitcavage said.

A spokesman for the Justice Department said the department is considering a possible statute to target “ideologically motivated crimes of violence” from radical groups or individuals inside the country.

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Jerry Boykin, executive vice president of the conservative Family Research Council, which a gunman attacked in 2012 over its opposition to same-sex marriage, said Wednesday’s shooting showed that both sides need to “tone down their rhetoric.”

“This is an opportunity for a fresh start for everybody in a position of leadership, all the way up to the president,” Boykin said.

Most political violence in the United States still comes from right-wing groups, according to Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.

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However, the United States also has a history of violence from left-wing groups such as the Weather Underground, which was active in the 1970s.

It then eased substantially over the past three decades but has risen again in recent years with violence at protests against globalization, police brutality and the Trump administration, Levin said.

Left-wing extremists “might be the junior varsity, but they’re now on the radar screen,” he said.

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It is too early to say if Hodgkinson’s attack was part of a post-election trend of left-wing violence, said J.J. MacNab, a fellow specializing in anti-government extremism at George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security.

“We are a cycle-of-violence country. It looks like we may be going into a left-wing phase now, but I’m not sure the violent right-wing is ready to shut up yet,” MacNab said.

(Reporting by Julia Harte and Dustin Volz in Washington and Dan Trotta in New York; Additional reporting by John Walcott in Washington; Editing by Paul Tait)


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New study warns of ‘killer heat’ set to overtake the US

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Without urgent international action to address runaway global heating, there will be almost no communities or regions in the contiguous United States unaffected as the number of lethally hot days each year—including those characterized as "off-the-charts" hot—doubles by mid-century and quadruples by the year 2100.

"Nearly everywhere, people will experience more days of dangerous heat even in the next few decades." —Kristina Dahl, Union of Concerned ScientistsThat is among the key findings of a new report and accompanying peer-reviewed study published in Environmental Research Communications, both by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), released Tuesday.

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Christine Lagarde resigns as head of IMF

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International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde submitted her resignation from the global crisis lender on Tuesday, citing more clarity about her nomination to lead the European Central Bank as European legislators approved a new top bureaucrat.

Lagarde said in a statement her resignation was effective Sept. 12, firing the starting gun for the IMF’s search for her successor, which is likely to be another European.

“With greater clarity now on the process for my nomination as ECB President and the time it will take, I have made this decision in the best interest of the Fund,” Lagarde said in a statement.

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Wary US swimmers share waves with deadly sharks off Cape Cod

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At the entrance to Newcomb Hollow Beach, at the tip of the Cape Cod peninsula, the picture of a great white shark reminds swimmers that the US shores of the Atlantic must be shared with the ocean's most feared predator.

The great whites swim to this region in the northeastern United States to hunt for one of their preferred foods -- seals.

Since the Marine Mammal Protection Act was passed in 1972 the number of seals in Cape Cod has grown to more than 50,000.

In 2005 the great whites were declared a protected species in the state of Massachusetts -- where Cape Cod is located -- and have since become regular visitors to the region.

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